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Media-fed Tattoo Hysteria
The British media are well-known for their vicious verbal barbs and highly-energetic paparazzi, and with a growing number of people getting tattooed, they appear to also be jumping on the "tattoo hysteria" bandwagon when it comes to tattoos and health. This week a story ran in the Telegraph which played to a variety of fears while glossing over some basic facts about what it's like to actually get a tattoo.
The headline screams "Man died after tattoo on leg became infected," and yet when you actually read the whole story, some basic and common aspects of tattooing are played up as somehow abnormal, medical oversight seems to be skipped past and it turns out the man died from a cause that may have absolutely nothing to do with his tattoo.
The story casts some very common tattoo after effects as possibly out-of-the-ordinary, when in fact, they are almost universal. The "stinging" sensation John Chillingworth felt just a few hours after the procedure is probably one of the most universal feelings one might experience from getting a tattoo. Tattooing is accomplished by a needle making approximately 200 punctures per minute and the feeling is most-often described as feeling hot, sharp, stingy and scratchy. The unnamed reporter than says the man's leg was swollen, red and "a scab formed." Again, all of these symptoms are nearly universal to anyone who has ever been tattooed. Skin trauma is what produces the swelling and redness, and a scab is a sign that the skin is healing.
The fact that Mr. Chillingworth felt so much pain that he was having trouble sleeping and went to the doctor is noteworthy and he did the right thing by deciding to see his GP. Sadly, many people having tattoo side effects delay treatment and often write in anonymously to web sites. The story states that the doctor treated the patient with analgesics and antihistamines. Here's where the news skips entirely over something that's out of kilter: antihistamines are for mild allergic reactions, NOT for infections. If a bacterial infection was in fact underway, the patient was not actually receiving treatment that would lessen or cure it.
Just ten days after getting his birthday tattoo, John Chillingworth was found dead on his sofa. A coroner reported that the death was attributed to deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, a condition whereby a blood clot forms in a vein deep inside the leg and then travels to the lung. Infections can lead to this, but based on the stated treatment, it would seem Chillingworth's GP didn't actually think he was experiencing an infection. Attention is called to the tattooist and the cleanliness of their procedures, but no attention is paid to the fact that the doctor didn't give him any medication appropriate for an infection.
None of the medical treatment is looked at with any depth in the Telegraph story, but a lot of emphasis is placed on the fact that a sedentary man who may have had a leg infection had just gotten a tattoo. It's truly sad that 35-year-old John Chillingworth died suddenly, but it's even more sad that tattooing was stigmatized just to hype a news story.
Content copyright © 2013 by Rae Schwarz. All rights reserved.
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